Pakistan clash claims civilian toll

Fighting rages between government forces and pro-Taliban group in Swat valley.

    Tribesmen are bearing the brunt of the fighting along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border [AFP]

    A total of 46 people have been killed in the last 24 hours, according to Pakistani army sources.

    Fighter positions

    Helicopter gunships pounded Taliban fighter positions in the Swat valley during a second day of fighting, which has brought a two-month-old peace deal in the former tourist region to the brink of collapse.

    "We are now preparing for the burial, but facing hardships due to the curfew," Khan said.
    Another two men died when shells hit their houses in Deolai, while a young boy and a man working in a garden were killed in nearby Matta district, police and intelligence officials said.

    In video

    Pakistani Taliban say they have army of bombers

    A man was also killed in the crossfire between fighters and security forces at a golf course in the town of Kabal, they said, adding that a total of 25 people were also wounded in the fighting.
    Officials did not say if the deaths were caused by shells fired by security forces or Taliban fighters.
    Separately, Taliban fighters set fire to two girls' schools overnight, they said.
    Haji Muslim Khan, the spokesman for one of the largest pro-Taliban groups in the Swat valley, said that the group would begin targeting government schools and buildings throughout Pakistan with suicide bombers.

    "Who killed the innocent people they are bombing and they are shelling from helicopters? It is the Pakistani army," he told Al Jazeera.

    "I don't want America in my country and I don't want our soldiers to work for America and I want the rules and regulations of Islamic Sharia.

    "Our government are following rules and regulations of America and we want to change it."

    Zahid Hussain, an expert on Pakistani religious groups, told Al Jazeera that the peace deal the Pakistani government made with pro-Taliban fighters has collapsed.

    "I think from the beginning it was very clear that it would not work," he said.

    "While the deal was signed in May, there has not been a cessation of hostilities, and I think this period only displayed the fighters' capability to further arm and organise themselves."

    Army of bombers

    The warning follows a statement by Maulana Fazlullah, the Pakistan Taliban's leader in the Swat valley, that the group has an army of suicide bombers that could strike across the country at any moment.

    He told Al Jazeera that the Taliban has the capacity to take control of the entire Swat valley.

    Mountainous Swat was a thriving tourist resort known as the "Switzerland of Pakistan" until last year, when Fazlullah launched an armed campaign to enforce Sharia law in the region.

    Under the May peace deal, the Pakistan government agreed to gradually pull out troops and introduce an Islamic justice system.

    In exchange, the Taliban said they would halt attacks and surrender arms.

    Isaf frustration

    The threats from Swat's pro-Taliban groups came as the head of Nato-led forces in Afghanistan expressed frustration at not being able to confront the Taliban in Pakistan.

    In an exclusive interview with Al Jazeera's James Bays, General David McKiernan, commander of the International Assistance Security Force (Isaf), said: "[Violence] largely emanates from tribal sanctuaries across the border in Pakistan that allow the freedom of movement of insurgents into Afghanistan.

    "My mandate as a Nato commander stops at the border. ... You asked me, is it frustrating that organisations such as the Taliban and al-Qaeda exist in sanctuaries across the border? - Absolutely frustrating."

    "It's a regional problem. It is a problem for Pakistan and the leadership for Pakistan and it's a problem for Afghanistan."

    McKiernan, in charge of 53,000 Nato-led troops, said that Isaf was under-resourced and needed more military capabilities.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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